Saturday, May 13, 2017

Progressive: The Trouble with Ranking Schools

For a while now I've been a "Progressive Fellow in Education" (which is different from being, say, a charming fellow in the low brass section) and I write regularly for them as part of a group of twelve education writers. If you aren't reading the Fellows regularly, you should be.

Anyway, I'm going to try to entice you over there by offering the lead to my latest piece, because I think it's important that we all keep our heads on straight every time some new List of Schools comes out. So here we go--

Every time U.S. News and World Report issues its Best High School Rankings Index, I think of basketball. Here’s why. If you look at the CBS Sports list of top-ranking high school basketball teams in Pennsylvania, of the top twelve ranking programs only one is a public school. The rest include charter schools, Catholic schools, one private academy, and a Quaker boarding school.
I see two possible explanations for the lack of public schools: either those private schools know some important secrets about coaching basketball, or they benefit from being able to recruit and select the best players for their teams. I’m betting it’s the latter.

So when U.S. News announces that charters are marching up the rankings list, it’s pretty important to take a peek at just how those schools are assessed.

The selection method is a curious one, based on a series of hurdles. First, the school must show that it performed “better than expected” on the Big Standardized Test for its state (e.g. PARCC or SBA). “Better than expected” is based on a statistical model developed to look at genetic trends in cattle. I kid you not. It compares actual test results with an ideal alternative universe. If the real universe student does better than what the model predicts, the model assumes that’s because the teacher and school did something right.The technique has been criticized by statisticians and educators alike, but it remains the first hurdle that a U.S. News Super School must jump. (There is one loophole—all schools that score in the top 10 percent for their state automatically qualify, whether they beat expectations or not.)

You can read the rest of the article here...

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